The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 1952 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Vincente Minnelli Actors: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame, Barry Sullivan, Gilbert Roland, Leo G. Carroll, Vanessa Brown, Paul Stewart, Elaine Stewart

 


 

J

onathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) of Shields Pictures Incorporated has burned all of his bridges. No one in the industry will even return his calls. After a two-year hiatus, Jonathan has executive producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) arrange a meeting with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), and actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), to practically beg for their participation in a new picture. Though Shields couldn’t raise five cents at this point, Harry could raise two million dollars with the three stars’ names attached. But they’re not likely to agree.

Separately, the three guests reminisce about meeting and working with Shields. Fred remembers their introduction 18 years ago at Jonathan’s father’s funeral. At the Hollywood Hills, the two discuss the future of the movie studio Jonathan has just inherited, with Fred getting a promotion to the director’s chair. Though they begin with poverty row Westerns and other cheap, short shoots, they crash extravagant parties to mingle with cinema royalty, where they meet Harry Pebbel, who soon puts the two of them to work. One of their first big successes is with “The Doom of the Cat Men,” a little thriller made for no money but utilizing clever tactics to make the most of virtually nothing. Unfortunately, Pebbel wants to continue doing low-budget fright flicks, while Shields and Amiel want to win awards. And so they set out to make “The Faraway Mountain,” a story rejected my numerous studios – and one that Harry hopes will be the end of the ambitious filmmakers’ visions of acclaim.

As with many biographically-outlined productions, the main character’s arc is one of rising and falling. Georgia next recounts her involvement with Shields, followed by Bartlow, both encountering betrayals as they help the fledgling producer achieve fame. Each one narrates, too, allowing the audience to experience their separate yet similar perspectives on Shields’ using and abusing of talent and opportunity. Yet each one also unexpectedly finds alternate successes, even when tossed aside by Shields as he embarks on grander things, abandoning his partners and associates with ease. Strangely, however, Georgia is incredibly unsympathetic; unlike Amiel, whose work is exploited, Georgia is all doom and gloom, intent on destroying herself – all by herself.

As a behind-the-scenes melodrama of the industry, the film also intertwines a love story, which ends up carrying the most weight. In fact, with the second section’s heavy content, the third and final narrative, involving Bartlow and his wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame), ends up struggling to maintain the momentum. It’s almost as if the film finishes, and then a new, unrelated story starts up, circling back to the origins of a novelist, initially far removed from the Hollywood characters at the heart of the first two chapters. As a result, the third act drags, making the film feel overlong and sluggish. Even when Shields proves to be quite the rogue – most pointedly in an extremely contrived moment at the end – the revelation isn’t astounding. The message seems to be that artists are driven to their masterpieces by devilish people – that they need negative forces in their lives to excel. But here, that doesn’t translate to authenticity – nor consistent entertainment.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10